The past two days were busy! It was Beet Harvesting and Canning 2017!
Every year, we seem to plant more and more red beets. My husband and I both enjoy pickled beets, even though we forget we have them in the basement! And every year, after I am finished canning, we look at the amount of pint jars and think to our selves: “That’s it??” So that’s how our beet patch keeps expanding each year.
Our beets were starting to poke their little heads out of the ground, so I knew I had to do something with them soon. So I decided I would devote the last two days to all things beet.
I was kind of apprehensive about going into our beet patch. The leaves had grown so large, and there were giant weeds on one side and interspersed, and I really did not know what was living in there. The other week, we had a groundhog living in the weeds and without seeing him go in and out, I would have never known he was there! Luckily, I found a stick that my husband had used to mark the rows of things we planted. That was my exploring stick. I stuck the stick in among the beets and weeds first, that way, if there was a sleepy snake taking a nap in the garden, his anger at being awoken would be directed at the stick and not my hand! This stick also came in handy at swatting away insects, and even attempting to take batting practice on Japanese beetles that couldn’t seem to mind their own business! More than once, I imagined what the people driving by must have thought of me waving a stick around like a lunatic!
Once I got into the patch, it wasn’t so bad. I mean, there were bugs, because, duh, it’s a garden! I have a pretty good policy when it comes to insects. I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone. Sounds good, right? Well, horseflies and clumsy Japanese beetles don’t seem to think that is good enough. I am thankful for my homemade bug spray though, that actually helps quite a bit!
About a third of the way into one side of the beet patch, there was a random pumpkin plant. So, rather than disturb him, because he was already pretty large, I just went to the other side and started in that way. I got about halfway through picking when I decided I needed a break from that for a while, so I went to cut off the tops and wash the beets.
I did all of this outside because beets make a huge, reddish purple mess! I just took some garden clippers and cut the leaves off, leaving about an inch or so on the beet. I also kept the bottom root attached for now.
I went back to pulling beets, then cut the tops off and cleaned the second batch. In all, we ended up with four grocery bags of beets!
I am really bad a gaging how many jars I will need to fit everything I am going to can. I try to guess on the high side, just in case. I had 22 flat sealing lids, so that is how many jars I prepared!
The first thing I did was get the beets cooking. I put all the largest beets in first, since they would take about the same amount of time to cook, and it would take the longest. I wanted to just get them out of the way.
While they were beginning to boil, I washed all 22 pint jars, the rings, and the lids. I put two drops of tea tree oil in my dish water, to add some extra cleaning power! Once the jars were all clean, I laid them in the oven and preheated it to 215 degrees. This keeps the jars sterile. I placed the lids and rings in a saucepan full of water and turned the burner on low, to keep them clean as well.
Finally, the beets began to boil. Honestly, I did not time them, I just cooked them until they were fork tender. Then, I drained the beets, and put them into cold water in one half of my kitchen sink. I got the next batch of beets on the stove while the first batch cooled enough that I could handle them.
One very important rule of beet handling is to wear clothes that you don’t mind stained red or purple. Because beet juice has this way of finding its way everywhere! I even took my rings off, just because I did not want to take a chance on staining my diamonds.
I started cutting the tops and bottoms off the cooked beets and peeling them. My husband volunteered to cut them up for me. Since the first bunch of beets were so big, he cut them into eighths, and some even smaller.
The second batch of beets, I was on my own. My husband went to bed, since he still has to get up for work in the morning. Ah, the summer life of a teacher!
Once I put the third pot full of beets on the stove, I started to heat up my brine and the water bath canner. I had to take the pot full of lids off the stove and set it to the side, because I just didn’t have enough room on my stovetop! It was like a puzzle trying to get everything to fit! It’s a good thing my husband has high quality spacial skills!
For the brine, I added 7 cups apple cider vinegar, 3 cups water, 3 cups sugar, and 3 teaspoons salt to a pot and brought it to a boil, and then left it simmer the rest of the time. Again, I never know how much I will need, so I start sort of high, but have extra ingredients at the ready!
Finally, after much anticipation, the water bath canner was just about boiling, so I began filling my jars. First come the beets. I packed the jars as tightly as I could.
Next, I added the brine so it covered the beets. Then, I took a plastic knife and ran it down along the edge of the jar to let out any air. (When I used to can at home with my parents, we called it “burping” the jars.) If I needed to add a little more brine, I did.
I took a clean washcloth and wiped down the rim of the jar. Then, I took a lid and ring out of the hot water (using tongs) and put them on the jar, fingertip tight. I set it on the wire canning rack.
Once I had 7 pints on the wire rack, I set it very slowly into the canner of boiling water. I didn’t have the canner quite full enough, so I had to add a few extra cups of hot tap water. No big deal.
I set the timer for 30 minutes and let the canner do its thing. While I was waiting, I started peeling and cutting more beets.
When the timer went off, I lifted the wire rack out of the canner and hooked it on the sides. I carefully grasped each jar with the jar grabbing tool and placed them on the counter on a towel to cool. I made sure none of the jars were touching each other so they could cool properly.
I ended up running three cycles through the canner, totaling 15 jars. I had enough. It was about 4 hours past my bedtime, so I was sweaty, my contacts were dry, and I was exhausted. Plus, I did some quick math in my head, and I figured I was staring down the barrel of about 40 more pints of beets to process! Yikes! My previous calculations were way off!
Beet canning day two went much more smoothly. My husband was home to help me, and I changed up my strategy a little bit.
I decided to do quart jars instead of pints. I generally prefer to do pints, but it is twice the work and I was not a fan of that concept. We also cooked, peeled, and cut all of the beets first, so there was more room on the stove for the canner, brine, and lids and rings.
We needed to be a little creative when filling the canner with water in the sink!
We went through the same processes as the prior day, except with quarts rather than pints. My husband was in charge of packing the jars, while I poured in the brine, “burped” the jars, and put on the lids. We ended up with 8 quarts and 1 pint, and thankfully, we dug out the big canner, so we could process them all in one batch.
We ended up with 8 quarts and 16 pints of pickled beets. That was way less than my secondary estimation, but that is fine by me! We will have plenty of beets to eat throughout the year!
Do you enjoy canning foods? Have you processed anything so far this season? Do you have any tips and tricks for canning very large quantities of food? I would love to hear about them!